|Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce must captain Celtics ship||05.04.11 at 12:31 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
This was Paul Pierce‘s signature season. Reaching the 20,000-point plateau, he had left the 2005 version of himself behind — turning in the most efficient season of his 13-year career during the hunt for a second NBA championship banner that would further cement his legacy as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time.
“I’m trying to get another one,” Pierce told Celtics legend Bill Russell in a recent conversation on NBA.com. “I’m going to go out and get it, just like you did.”
And then the first two games of the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals happened.
Now, Pierce finds himself in a place he’s only been twice in his great Boston tenure — down 2-0 in a playoff series — and both times he’s been swept. But that was before he partnered with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, before he matured into an unselfish player who put team first and before he earned an NBA Finals MVP.
That partnership, maturity and unselfishness was nowhere to be found in Game 1, when he lost his head not once but twice in the heat of playoff battle — an all too familiar reminder of the guy who got tossed from Game 6 of a 2005 playoff series against the Pacers, waved his jersey over his head to incite the Indiana crowd and wore a mock bandage around his jaw during the post-game press conference.
In Game 2, Pierce took just 11 shots and two free throws for 13 points; he recorded only one assist. Where is the guy that shot nearly 50 percent for the regular season and dished out more than three assists per game? Sure, you could blame that in part on his strained left Achilles tendon, but he still played 33 minutes and said, “It didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”
Meanwhile, his defensive assignment, LeBron James, turned in a signature performance with 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting. There was a time, not too long ago, when Pierce was capable of giving James a run for his money. Remember Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, when The Truth lived up to his nickname and negated LeBron’s 45-point outing with 41 points of his own?
ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the Celtics’ struggles in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The C’s trail the Heat 2-0 as the series heads to Boston for Game 3 Saturday. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“I think the problem ultimately for the Celtics is going to be that they don’t have home court,” Legler said. “I think they’re going to derive a lot of energy coming home. With the change in venue and the couple of days off they’re going to have right now is going to do them a world of good. I think they’re going to energize themselves. I think they’re going to get their competitive edge back up again and realize: ‘Look, we’re not going out like this.’ And when they get home, you’re going to see a much better effort.
“Having said that, they can win two games in Boston, I don’t think there’s any question about it. But then you’re turning it into a best two out of three, but two of those games being in Miami, and you see the type of energy they played with down there.”
Legler said the Celtics’ aging stars simply can’t keep up with the Heat youngsters. “I just don’t know if Boston is athletic enough to deal with this team,” Legler said. “Because LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are doing what they want to do. They’re getting to the place on the court they want to get to. They’re getting there quicker than Boston has a chance to react.
“I think it’s the first time since this [Celtics] group’s been together, since ’08, that their defense doesn’t look as quick or as suffocating as it normally is. And I think a lot of that has to do with how fast and how quickly Miami gets to their spots offensively, and how they beat you off the dribble. And they’re getting to the rim and they’re getting to places before the help defender can get there. We’re not used to seeing that against this Boston team. And I think that speaks directly to the athleticism involved with the Miami Heat and that might be eventually the undoing for the Celtics in this series. They’re just not athletic enough to deal with this.”
Legler was asked about the Kendrick Perkins trade and how the center would impact the series were he still a Celtic. Said Legler: “Kendrick Perkins would definitely have an impact, and a healthy Shaquille O’Neal would have a similar impact. No. 1, just taking up space, being physical, moving bodies around the rim. You seal off those little pockets that you see Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh and some of the offensive rebounds they’ve gotten. I don’t think that they would be getting those if you have Kendrick Perkins in there or you have a healthy Shaq.
“Finishing plays around the basket ‘ Perkins was never a great offensive player, but he got much better at it as he grew with the Boston Celtics. And Shaq has a 60 percent field goal percentage through his career. He’s going to make some of the shots right now that are being missed through the first two games, because they’re point-blank. He’s going to finish, he’s going to power through people. He’s not a guy that can move very well out on the floor, but just as far as anchoring the paint on both ends, they absolutely miss that physical presence.
“The depleted front line of the Boston Celtics just doesn’t do anything to to intimidate Miami.”
|Fast Break: Celtics collapse in another loss to Heat||05.03.11 at 9:45 pm ET|
The Heat broke open a tie game in the fourth quarter with a 14-point run and LeBron James‘ 35 points helped Miami defeat the Celtics, 102-91, to take a two-game lead in the second-round series. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.
Game 3 is back in Boston on Saturday.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Fourth-quarter collapse: After surging back to tie the game at 80 apiece, the Heat scored the next 14 points, including six free throws, to take a 94-80 lead with three and a half minutes remaining. James dominated that stretch, totaling 12 fourth-quarter points. The Celtics unraveled, failing to get back on defense as a result of complaints about the officiating. Even Doc Rivers picked up a late technical foul arguing a call (the Heat did own a 36-22 advantage in free throws).
Heat’s Big Three vs. Celtics’ Big Four: The Heat entered the game with a 33-3 record when their Big Three combined for 70 points, and James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to top that milestone by 10. Wade, James and Bosh combined for 80 points and 26 rebounds, while Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett totaled 56 points and 22 rebounds. Allen (7 points) and Pierce (11 points) especially struggled.
Paul Pierce isn’t Paul Pierce: Pierce left the game in the first half after twisting an ankle. After getting treatment in the locker room, he returned relatively quickly. Still, he didn’t appear as explosive and struggled for a second straight game. Meanwhile, Allen — who was already struggling — bruised his chest during a third-quarter collision with James.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Jeff Green inserts himself: In 10 first-half minutes, Jeff Green made 4-of-5 shots — including a pair of 3-pointers for 10 points before the break (he finished with 11 points). His performance highlighted what was perhaps the bench’s best stretch of the playoffs, as the Celtics stayed with the Heat to start a low-scoring second quarter. Green even demonstrated some rare emotion, letting out a roar after being fouled by James in the third quarter. Delonte West (10 points) also had five points on 2-of-2 shooting off the bench during that same span.
Guarding James Jones: After Jones scored 25 points on seven shots in Game 1, the Celtics made a concerted effort to keep Jones from killing them on open 3-point shots — and it paid off. Forcing Jones to play off the dribble rather than set up along the 3-point line, the C’s held him to one missed field goal in the first half. Meanwhile, Jones picked up three fouls on the defensive end before the break — rendering him useless.
JO-ffensive rebounding: The Celtics have struggled on the offensive glass all season, but Jermaine O’Neal single-handedly gave the C’s five extra possessions in the first half alone — as they battled the Heat evenly (7-7) in offensive rebounding for the first 24 minutes. O’Neal finished with a respectable eight points and nine rebounds, but the Celtics ended up losing the rebounding battle on both ends of the floor.
|Irish Coffee: Heat not guilty of foul play?||at 1:43 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Plenty of deserved concerns arose about the officiating following the Heat’s Game 1 victory over the Celtics in which LeBron James & Co. made the same amount of field goals (32) and three fewer 3-pointers (12-9) but 12 more free throws on 14 more attempts.
Considering the NBA downgraded Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal‘s flagrant-one to a personal foul while upgrading Heat guard James Jones‘ personal to a flagrant-one foul the day after Game 1, any gripes about the referees — Dan Crawford, Ed Malloy and Derrick Collins — were validated as more than just sour grapes.
NBA officials have long been criticized for their treatment of the league’s superstars. It’s a conspiracy theory born in the Michael Jordan era and nursed along by the indictment of referee Tim Donaghy on game-fixing allegations (Donaghy appeared on Dennis & Callahan Tuesday morning). While I wouldn’t go so far to include the NBA’s current referees — Sunday’s officiating crew included — in the same conversation as Donaghy, there is statistical evidence that James and Dwyane Wade have received at least inadvertent star treatment throughout the 2010-11 season and into the playoffs.
The Heat averaged 27.9 free-throw attempts per game during the regular season, while their opponents averaged 24.2. Conversely, the Celtics averaged 23.1 free-throw attempts, while their opponents averaged 24.1. More specifically, Wade and James combined for 17.0 free-throw attempts per game this season. By contrast, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined for 13.3 free throws a game.
But Wade and James get to the rim a ton, you say? That’s true. Each game, the Heat duo combined for 13.1 field-goal attempts within three feet of the basket. Hence, the big free throw numbers. But shouldn’t the Celtics’ Big Four — who combine for 14.0 field goals at the rim every game — be somewhere in that 17 free-throws per game range, rather than 13.3?
Not convinced? Consider this fact: Jordan averaged 7.7 free throws per game during his six championship seasons; Wade (8.6) and James (8.4) each averaged more this season.
|Heat practice notes: Who you calling physical?||05.02.11 at 4:55 pm ET|
MIAMI — The question was posed to various Heat players from about six different angles, but it really all boiled down to this: Are you surprised by the Celtics reaction after Game 1 that your play was (pick one) chippy, physical or cheap?
“I didn’t see us start anything,” LeBron James said. “I don’t understand what all the other conversation is about. We just want to play basketball. Go out there we’re going to be physical, the best team will win the game that night. That’s all it’s about.”
Added Dwyane Wade, “At the end of the day it’s basketball. No one’s going to be out there doing anything crazy. Ain’t no fighting going on. It’s basketball and the guys are going to be physical and they’re going to take hard fouls. You just got to move on from it.”
James Jones: “It’s all in the game. We’re trying to keep it strictly about basketball. Whenever you have emotionally charged guys on the floor, two very high caliber teams battling and competing, you always have something. No one wants to give an inch.”
Your turn, Erik Spoelstra: “We’re not trying to be somebody we’re not. We’re not stepping out of our box.”
It was left to Wade to add a little levity to the questions. “I haven’t been in the second round in a long time but I’m assuming this is how it is,’ he said. “Maybe I’ve been out of the loop for a while. If they win a ballgame it will be a total different spin on things.”
So there you have it. The Heat are going to be physical. We know the Celtics will try to be more aggressive in Game 2. There will be hard fouls. There will probably be a few technicals. It is, after all, the playoffs and while the Celtics made their names by playing rough and tumble defense, the Heat are making their own reputation on that end of the floor. Paul Pierce will not be suspended for Game 2 after his ejection, which featured a face-shove with Jones, and everyone will all move on.
Beyond that storyline, there are adjustments and tweaks to be made. The Heat were generally pleased with how they performed in their 99-90 Game 1 victory, but also felt like they had a lot to clean up. Spoelstra is still very concerned about Rajon Rondo who was held to just seven points and seven assists, but acknowledged that a good deal of that was the foul trouble that sent Rondo to the bench in the second quarter.
“I’m not overstating it,” Spoelstra said..”When he was in more of a rhythm in the second half he made a big impact. He’ll break you down, he’ll find a way. When it gets broken down all rules are thrown out the window and you have to do something with an effort ‘ a deflection, a rotation, to transcend all of that.”
After the game Rondo noted that he had his shot blocked several times from the weakside as he drove to the basket.
“LeBron and [Joel] Anthony came and blocked my shots. I got a lot of my shots blocked tonight,” Rondo said. “Give them credit. On the fast break they did a good job pursuing the ball.”
Rondo was disappointed with his play and not just because of the foul trouble, citing turnovers and missed opportunities. He remains the biggest key to the series, but here are a few other items of concern for Miami.
FLOOR SPACING: How did James Jones get so open for his 3-pointers? First, the Heat took advantage of matchups and got him on the move. Second, he found the right areas that were clear to set up and third, his teammates got him the ball.
“They do a tremendous job of protecting the paint so when our attackers put the ball on the floor there’s usually at least two help defenders putting their bodies in front of drivers,” Spoelstra said. “So J.J. was able to get in open areas. Spacing is going to be critical for our offense. Executing our second and third options will be paramount because both teams defend the first trigger very well.”
The Celtics overload the ball with defenders and put pressure on the ballhandler to make snap decisions. Some teams try to beat the defense by passing to the weakside, which is the vulnerable area on the court. The Heat made a concerted effort to drive and attack the defense at its strongest point. Not many teams can do that, but Miami has the talent.
Once Miami goes into its rotations, pay close attention to how the Celtics counter. They were left with some strange combinations like Kevin Garnett chasing Jones. Spoelstra cited the play of Mike Miller, who was on the floor when Miami made a big run in the second quarter and added size on the wing. “They were short minutes but they were productive minutes,” Spoelstra said.
DEFENDING RAY ALLEN: Wade was the biggest offensive star on the court with 38 points, but Ray Allen had a big night as well with 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 5-for-8 on his 3-pointers.
“My job is to chase Ray Allen around, hoping he gets tired one day and misses a shot,” Wade said.
In response to a particularly difficult 3 that Allen made, Wade said, “Only Ray Allen can make that shot. Nobody else. I looked at the film and realized I made three mistakes and every one resulted in a 3. That’s why he is who he is and why he’s great.”
CHRIS BOSH LOOKS TO GET GOING: On the one hand, Bosh scored just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting. On the other, Kevin Garnett scored six points on 3-for-9 shooting. You can call it a wash, but that’s a matchup the Celtics need to win if they’re going to take Game 2. Bosh said the key was keeping his emotions in check.
“I’ve been in so many situations where I let my emotions get the best of me and I let that anxiety get the best of me,” he said. “I’m at a point where I just relax no matter what the situation is and just play the game.”
|Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Heat tale of the tape||04.29.11 at 1:03 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Not much needs to be said about what this second-round series means to the Celtics or the Heat. Regardless of what they say, I’m pretty sure the Celtics don’t like the Heat, and vice versa. The only guy I’m not sure about is Eddie House. I don’t know if he likes anybody. But, as he told the Miami Herald, “We match up great.” So, let’s go to the tape …
Celtics 3, Heat 1
90.5 … points … 92.3
12.0 … fast break points … 10.0
34.5 … points in the paint … 33.5
47.3 … FG% … 44.7
45.3 … 3P% … 28.6
71.5 … FT% … 74.0
35.8 … rebounds … 39.8
7.3 … o-rebounds … 11.5
28.5 … d-rebounds … 28.3
21.0 … assists … 18.5
6.5 … steals … 6.5
1.8 … blocks … 4.3
13.8 … turnovers … 15.8
22.3 … personal fouls … 20.3
Obviously, that point differential is swayed significantly by the Heat’s 100-77 victory in their fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Still, despite the Heat outscoring the Celtics 44-26 in the paint and 12-3 on the fast break in that game, the C’s still owned the advantage in those categories — in addition to their significant edge in 3-point shooting.
While offensive rebounding is always a concern for the Celtics, I wouldn’t worry too much about rebounding overall, considering the two teams played fairly even on the defensive glass and the Heat’s lower field-goal percentage meant more opportunities for offensive boards. The Celtics shot better and took care of the ball better — two huge categories in their favor.
Where Miami can win this series is at the free-throw line. They averaged five more trips to the charity stripe per game, and we all know how often LeBron James and Dwyane Wade get to the line –deservedly or not.
Now, let’s examine how the Celtics and Heat produced this season (league ranks in parentheses):
|Celtics and Heat offer interesting matchups||04.28.11 at 1:40 pm ET|
All along the Celtics and Heat figured that they would meet in the playoffs.”It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t go through them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters in Miami after his team eliminated Philadelphia on Wednesday.
The Celtics had a similar reaction. “We assumed when they put this team together, at some point if we want to put another banner up then we’ll probably have to go through them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before the team went through practice on Thursday.
Now that it’s upon us expect no small amount of hype to emerge. But when you break through the thicket of noise, the thing that makes this series so compelling from a basketball standpoint are the individual matchups. There are seven members of the 2011 Eastern Conference All-Star team competing in this series and six of them will be matched directly against each other:
Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Garnett
Expect the Celtics to approach their defensive assignments in a straightforward manner.
“The numbers bare out when we guard our own guys we’re pretty good and when we guard other guys we’re pretty bad, against this team in particular,” Rivers said. “They may look good on paper and they look good visually for two minutes, statistically they’ve been horrendous for us.”
Rivers was referring directly to the fullcourt defense Rajon Rondo employed against James in the Celtics 85-82 win back in February. While Rondo’s gambit stirred the Garden crowd and provided some inspirational moments, once the postgame fog of exuberance gave way to sober analysis, the matchup did more harm than good for the Celtics.
But Rondo is the wild card in this series because asking Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers to stay with him for 48 minutes may be asking too much. That could mean Wade or James switching their assignments to try to contain Rondo. “We’ll see one of those guys guarding Rondo, which means one of them aren’t guarding Ray or Paul, so we’re good with all those,” Rivers said.
One thing the Celtics want to avoid are having to rely on double-teams or switches, but that’s easier said than done against this team.
“Every time we’ve overhelped in any series, including the New York series, we tend to hurt ourselves more than just playing our solid one-on-one defense with support,” Rivers said. “They run some stuff that’s honestly difficult to not switch, but we really try to avoid the switch as much as possible.”
“Jeff is going to have to be a great defender,” Rivers said. “He ran into that in the New York series where by the end of the series he was terrific on Carmelo [Anthony. That’s gives us another big, athletic body.” Asked if Green could help with Wade, Rivers said, “We may do it in stretches, but you’re asking for trouble in the long run.”
The plan is for Shaquille O’Neal to participate in the walkthrough segment of Thursday’s practice and then try to get on the floor for for the full session on Friday. The Celtics will fly to Miami on Saturday so Friday will be the last chance for O’Neal to get on the floor before Sunday’s Game 1.
The Celtics know the hype will approach histrionic levels throughout the series, but they also know this is ultimately just one step in a larger process.
“It’s the second round,” Paul Pierce said. “It’s the halfway point of where our goal is. I know there’s going to be a lot of hype around it, like it’s a championship series, but you’ve got to understand it’s still just the second round. But a very big second round [series] because you’ve got two potential teams that can win it all. I’m excited. This is a great stage for basketball. It’s going to be great for fans and the guys that we have here love these type of series.”
PIERCE VS. LEBRON, III
Pierce has faced James two other times in the playoffs and the Celtics have won both series. In 2008 they beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game epic that featured brilliant Game 7 performances for both players. James scored 45 points in the 97-92 Celtics win, while Pierce went for 41 of his own. James got the better of Pierce in their individual matchup last season, but the Celtics won in six games.
Asked if it was personal for James to finally get past the Celtics, Pierce said, “Probably so at this point. When you lose to a team consecutive times in the playoffs — I mean, it would be personal for me. I’m sure he’s going to take it personal and you’ve got to expect his best.”
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